Internal morality examined at Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde performance on Thursday
Throughout our lives we’re all presented with decisions that are neither entirely bad nor 100 percent noble. The choices might contain shades of bad, sprinkles of good and a whole lot of in-between.
But, when we’re making them, we tend to feel both sides tugging at our consciousness, much like the way Dr. Henry Jekyll had evil wash over him when he “became” Mr. Edward Hyde.
Great Falls gets the opportunity to watch the classic musical with that central idea that’s stayed relevant for all these years on Thursday starting at 7:30 p.m., at the Mansfield Center for the Performing Arts Theater.
The “Broadway in Great Falls” showing of “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is directed/choreographed by Paul Stancato, with lyrics by double Oscar and Grammy winning writer Leslie Bricuss, along with multi Grammy and Tony nominated writer Frank Wildhorn. It is produced by Touring Theater Associates.
The show stars Alex Knezevich as Jekyll/Hyde, Brad Grimmer as Gabriel John Utterson, Laura Helm as Lucy Harris and Eryn LeCroy as Emma Carew, Jekyll’s fiancée.
Some of the well-known actors to play Jekyll/Hyde over the years on Broadway include David Hasselhoff, Jack Wagner, Sebastian Bach and Robert Cuccioli, the original Broadway lead for the production.
“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” tells the tale of a mystery through the eyes of a man with a friend who’s not all that he seems.
The musical starts with Utterson and his other friend named Enfield who tells him about a grisly assault that recently took place involving a man named Mr. Hyde who tramples a young woman and disappears into a door. He re-emerges and pays off her relatives with a checked signed by a trustworthy man, who Utterson finds out to be Dr. Jekyll. Slowly, Utterson starts to piece more of the scene together, despite Jekyll demanding that he keep away from Hyde entirely.
In an interview with Big Sky State Buzz, Grimmer said one place they’ve approached modernized this show in a way that stays true to the original Robert Lewis Stevenson story is by framing it as a man, Jekyll, with a mental illness and not someone who’s fighting evil incarnate in Hyde.
“We’re not talking about Jekyll and Hyde as if Hyde is some demonic creature,” Grimmer said. “It’s more the fact that Dr. Jekyll was dealing with schizophrenia in the 1880s and how they didn’t know what it was and didn’t know how to deal with mental illness. We all have the devil and angel on our shoulders and I think nearly all of us reach a point where we start to ask, ‘where is that line between good and evil?’”
Some of the show’s key motifs include silence, violence against innocent people and the aftermath, while some themes that can be gleaned from the musical include the duality of human nature and how a man’s reputation affects his relationships.
Grimmer said with his character, he identifies most with him in that he sees himself, like Utterson, as someone who’s there to help his friends in a time of need.
“My character John Utterson is … his best friend and a brother of sorts,” Grimmer said. “The story is written from my (character’s) perspective, so John’s main role is to be Henry’s support system and someone who can lock him down into stability and reality as he’s losing control of himself. Like John, personally I’ve always had a tendency to want to help others. My mom’s a social worker, too, so when I see people having problems, or hear about them, I’m really invested in trying to help in any way I can.”
Grimmer said his hairstyle has helped him relate to the character, as well since the show’s tour started in September.
“I’ve been rocking some epic mutton chops these past six months, which has helped me fall into the era of 1880s Victorian England,” he said.
Grimmer added that this cast’s chemistry, on stage and off, has made it an enjoyable experience for everyone involved.
One of the unique things that they’ve done is that before every show they all hold hands and one person, it changes from night to night, talks about something that’s been inspiring them or something that they’ve been really focused on that might help them.
“This is the first show I’ve ever done that and I think it makes a big difference because it gets us all on the same page before the show starts,” he said.
When it comes to the singing in “Jekyll and Hyde,” however, he said much of the weight is carried by the male lead, as there are 14 or 15 songs sung by him.
For this show, 130 dates stretching from last September through March, Grimmer said Knezevich especially along with the rest of the cast, has worked extra hard on preserving their voices for the stretch run.
“There are a few big call numbers, but the main weight of the signing falls on Jekyll, who has 14 or 15 songs, which was a challenge in rehearsals because it’s likely the biggest male role in Broadway,” Grimmer said. “So (Knezevich) needed to hone the ability to pace himself, not blow his voice too soon as well as pacing his lighter voice with Jekyll with a demonic voice of Hyde. Both he and this entire cast is incredibly strong vocally.”
Part of that strength comes from keeping physically active while on the road, going to the gym every day, eating right, avoiding too many late night parties and staying focused on avoiding what Grimmer called the “comfortable rhythm,” of touring that’s “not as honest as it should be.”
“We have to keep it fresh for 130 performances and this is the longest run of a show I’ve ever done, but for every night it’s that audience’s first time seeing it so we have to make sure we’re really present in the moment and listening to our scene partners very closely.”
Some of the more memorable songs from this musical include “This Is the Moment,” “Façade,” and “I Must Go On.”
With “Façade,” Grimmer pointed to several of the lyrics, which he said are perhaps more poignant now in this age of social media and appearing a certain way that’s not entirely real.
“You look at what ‘Façade’ is saying, ‘There’s a face that we wear, in the cold light of day, it’s society’s mask, it’s society’s way, and the truth is, that it’s all a facade.’ I think that speaks to a lot of what we see today, most definitely.”
Finally, Grimmer said as the show nears it’s conclusion in two months, he feels fortunate to be a part of such a special group of people who have all made quick friends over the course of the tour.
“It’s been an incredible experience,” he said. “We’ve been getting really good receptions with all of our audiences and we’ve been selling out about everywhere we’ve been. The cast is incredibly talented and we actually get really well off stage as well, and that chemistry follows us on stage, which makes for a real special show.”
Individual tickets for Thursday’s performance are $47.50 and $52.50 per person. They can be purchased online at www.ticketing.greatfallsmt.net, by phone at 455-8514 or at the Mansfield Events Center Box Office.